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1st Manobo in Congress vows to defend Lumad schools, national minorities’ rights over ancestral lands

The member of the 18th Congress who probably has the least formal education took to the floor of the House of Representatives last Monday, July 29, visibly nervous but delivered the most powerful speech of the night nonetheless.

Neophyte representative Eufemia Cullamat of Bayan Muna delivered her first privileged speech, vowed to defend the Lumad schools that are under attack by government forces, and called for the respect of the indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination over their ancestral domains.

Cullamat apologized for what she feared may be mispronounced words, but she soon hit her stride and passionately delivered her seven-page speech.

“I admit I am one of the very few members in this hall who may have only finished elementary education and finds it difficult to understand English words or read them. I am living proof of the government’s failure to provide education for everyone because the nearest school from where I live is 20 kilometers away,” Cullamat said in Filipino.

A member of the Manobo tribe from the mountains of Barangay Diatogon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Ka Femia railed against the attacks on Lumad schools she helped build. She recalled how she witnessed the murder of her cousin Dionel Campos, her uncle Datu Jovillo Sinzo, and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development’s (Alcadev’s) executive director Emerito Samarca on September 1, 2015.

“I was shaking, prone on the ground, while the soldiers and the paramilitary peppered us non-stop with bullets. I clearly saw how Dionel was ordered to lie on the ground by a paramilitary. I clearly saw how his brain splattered when he was shot,” Cullamat said.

“I embraced Dionel’s children as they wailed over their father’s lifeless and violated body.  I saw one of our elders, Datu Bello, bludgeoned several times that caused fractures on his legs and arms,” Cullamat added.

She also narrated how she saw Alcadev’s principal Samarca lying in one of the classrooms, his lifeless body bearing signs of torture. “His body was riddled with bullets, full of cigarette burns and his throat slashed,” she narrated.

Cullamat said the massacre was one incident that shows how the government regards the Lumad’s struggle to establish indigenous peoples’ schools.

“What pains me, Mr. Speaker, is that these horrible attacks are still being perpetrated in our schools, against our teachers, against our children. Not only do they destroy our schools, they file trumped-up charges against our teachers and supporters; they also imprison them,” she said.

“They disrespect, they burn the schools we sacrifice so much to put up,” she added, her voice breaking in pent-up rage.

Cullamat raises fist in tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the national minority groups. (Screengrab from HOR live feed)

Cullamat said that for many decades, the national minority had been deprived of basic social services, including education. She said they have been victimized by their lack of education, as well as the difficulty in obtaining them on the flatlands.

But the massacre goes beyond the government’s false accusations that the Lumad schools are disguised New People’s Army (NPA) training and recruitment grounds, Ka Femia said.

“That massacre was clearly meant to intimidate us into allowing coal mining in our ancestral lands. As a paramilitary trooper once said, ‘it would not have happened if we allowed mining,'” she said. But the Lumad of Diatogon have long decided to defend their land from environmental plunder, a decision that has cost them many lives and the existence of their beloved schools.

Cullamat said 15 coal mining, as well as palm oil plantation companies, are salivating over 200,000 hectares inside Lumad-Manobo communities in the Andap Valley Complex in Surigao del Sur.

Still, Cullamat said, they will fight for their schools. She said they persevered in establishing them and succeeded through blood, sweat, and tears and with the help of the church and non-government organizations. The schools taught them to read, write, and count.

“Because of these schools, our children are being educated in ways that are respectful of our traditions, culture, and our need to improve our lives, especially through agriculture so that we may prosper while we protect our ancestral domains for future generations,” she explained.

Cullamat also cited that many graduates of their Lumad schools have gone on to earn college degrees and have gone back to their communities as teachers, agriculturists, health workers and organizers. They have also become trusted advisers to their tribal leaders.

She added that her children studied in the Lumad schools and taught her and other adults in their communities to read and understand Filipino. “My dear colleagues, I now stand before you, speaking in Filipino, because of these Lumad schools,” she said.

The success of the schools in educating the Lumad have made them targets of harassments and attacks, the neophyte legislator said. She cited the recent decision of the Department of Education to suspend the permits of 55 Salugpongan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Learning Center schools in Davao upon the prodding of national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

“Esperon accuses the Salugpungan schools of training Lumad children to become New People’s Army guerrillas and how to shoot or dismantle guns, as he accuses other schools run by the Clans (Center for Lumad Advocacy Networking and Services), Misfi (Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc.), Trifpss (Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur), and Alcadev. All these are lies that are only meant to close down our schools and shut down our national minority organizations,” she cried, her voice rising in anger.

As an indigenous person member of Congress, Cullamat said she must report to Congress that the attacks against the national minority do not only happen in Mindanao. She said the Dumagats who oppose the mega-dam projects in Quezon and the Igorots who with the Chico River Irrigation Pump Project in the Cordilleras are also under attack.

“In spite of all these, the national minority would persevere in defense of our ancestral lands, the source of our life and livelihood,” she vowed.

“We will persevere in defending our schools for the education of our children. We will persevere in our quest for justice for the victims of human rights violations,” she added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP slams Army unit, LGU

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned a military unit that tried to prevent Davao City-based journalists from covering the evacuation of about 2,000 Lumad evacuees in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Monday, July 16.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the NUJP said it strongly condemns the 4th Civic Military Operation (4th CMO) Battalion of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that stopped the vehicle carrying five journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Radyo ni Juan Network, Kilab Multimedia, The Breakaway Media and Davao Today at about 11 o’clock Monday at Kilometer 3, Sitio Neptune in Diatagon, Lianga.

A Major Jerson Igloria, battalion ground commander manning the checkpoint, told the reporters not to proceed to where the evacuees were gathered and was heard asking, “Sino yang nasa loob ng sasakyan? Mga illegal yan? ‘Di lumabas.” (Who are those inside the vehicles? Are they illegal? Why are they not alighting?)

Inquirer correspondent Barry Dacanay then alighted and tried to go near the approaching evacuees but was stopped by Igloria who told him, Sir, doon ka lang. Respetohay lang ta.” (Sir, just stay away. Let us respect each other.)

The Army officer then ordered the journalists to first secure a permit from the Lianga Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD) Office before they would be allowed to cover the evacuation.

“Hintayin niyo yung MSWD kung papayagan kayo,” Maj. Igloria told them, claiming the place was an “ambush area” and therefore dangerous. (Just wait for the MSWD if it would allow you.)

A 4th CMO trooper interrogates a journalist at a checkpoint in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. (The Breakaway Media photo)

The journalists sought permission from the Lianga MSWD but were refused without explanation.

Asked later by local reporters about their refusal, Lianga MSWD officer Melita Encenzo denied forbidding the Davao journalists from proceeding to where the evacuees were.

“They just need to seek permission from the MSWDO or the barangays officials, just so we know who visits our area of responbility,” Encenzo reportedly said.

The journalists nevertheless managed to take photos and videos as well as conduct interviews when the evacuees reached the national highway.

The NUJP however said that both the military and the MSWD had no right in trying to prevent the Davao journalists from covering the Lumad evacuation.

“We stress that, in the absence of clear and present danger, neither the Army, MSWD, or any government agency has the authority to prevent any Filipino citizen from enjoying the freedom to travel and, in this case, stop journalists from covering what is clearly an event of utmost public interest and concern,” NUJP said.

The group said that even if it was dangerous, it is precisely the military’s mandate to protect civilians such as the journalists and the evacuees they were covering.

It also scored the MSWD for trying to prevent coverage of the evacuees’ plight and depriving them of assistance by withholding information that could help solicit more aid for the Lumad.

“Martial law [in Mindanao] does not justify the arbitrary restriction on coverage of the Lumad evacuation, unless, of course, we have ceased to be a democracy. What happened was a clearly unconstitutional violation of press freedom and, more importantly, of the people’s right to know,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Military encampment forces Manobos to evacuate anew

Evacuees were confronted by the 74th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

Military operations by the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army drove more than a thousand Manobo Lumad to evacuate anew in Surigao del Sur Province Monday, July 16.

At least 1,607 Manobos from 11 communities of Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town and three communities from Barangay Buhisan, San Agustin town were forced to evacuate due to the encampment of the 75th IBPA in their communities since June 14, 2018, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network said in an alert.

Alternative multimedia group The Breakaway Media also reported that the evacuees started their march from their communities at six o’clock in the morning and arrived at Barangay Diatogon’s Gymnasium at two o’clock in the afternoon.

A military checkpoint tried to prevent the evacuees from reaching the national highway as well as media workers from covering the evacuation, SOS said.

More than 1,600 Manobo evacuees fill the road to Barangay Diatagon Monday. (SOS Network photo)

In their fourth forced evacuation under the Rodrigo Duterte government, the Manobos complain of human rights abuses by the military, including sexual harassment of women and teenagers.

Lianga Manobos have also evacuated in July and November last year and January this year due to intensified military operations.

The Lumad also complain of forced recruitment of Manobo men to the military’s Civilian Auxiliary Geographical Unit as well as threats, harassments, and intimidation of Lumad school students in Sitio Simowao in Barangay Diatogon.

Among the evacuees are 568 learners of the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, award-winning alternative schools for the indigenous Lumad.

The Save Our Schools Network also said the military threatened to file criminal charges against the Lumad leaders if they pushed through with their evacuation.

The Lumad said heavy military presence at the Andap Valley complex is to pave the way for the extraction of coal from their ancestral domain by mining giants Benguet Corp., Great Wall Mining and Abacus Coal.

Andap Valley is said to hold the biggest bulk of coal reserves in the country.

The Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has yet to issue a statement on the incident. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

More than 1,600 Manobo evacuees fill the road to Barangay Diatagon Monday. (The Breakaway Media photo)

Manobos receive threat after peace talks termination

MALAYBALAY CITY, Bukidnon—Instead of being given rice, hungry Tigwahanon Manobos have been threatened with massacre should they push through with their planned camp out in front of San Fernando, Bukidnon’s town hall.

“Huwag mong gawin sa akin iyan.  Alam mo namang wala nang peace talks.  Baka ma-massacre pa kayo,” San Fernando Mayor Levi Edma Sr. reportedly told the complaining Lumad. (Do not do that to me.  You know the peace talks have been terminated.  You might get massacred.)

Tigwahanon Manobo tribal chieftain Jimboy Mandagit said they met Edma last February 8 at the latter’s office to inquire about the food assistance sent them by the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) last September.

Mandagit said they have been hungry since they returned to Sitio Tibugawan, Barangay Cawayan, San Fernando from their evacuation camp in Malaybalay City last December 12.

Mandagit and his tribe evacuated to the capital grounds last July 29 after a traditional wedding ceremony in their community was attacked by the paramilitary New Indigenous People’s Army (NIPAr) led by the fugitive Alde “Butsoy” Salusad killing a pregnant woman.

Who are Datu Jimboy Mandagit and Butsoy Salusad?

“The rice given us when we returned to our community has run out and we are really hard up.  We need three more months before we could harvest what we planted since we returned,” Mandagit said.

Of the more than 200 sacks of rice and other food items sent to them by DSWD secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Edma only gave them 37 sacks of rice and distributed the rest to San Fernando’s 24 barangays, the chieftain said.

Mayor Edma reportedly refused to give them more rice unless the Manobos could present a signed authorization from President Rodrigo Duterte.

Mandagit said the mayor instead gave 52 families the sum of PhP14,000.00 for them to buy equipment to clear their once-abandoned farms.

“I told the mayor that what we need is the more than 200 sacks of rice and other food items sent for us by secretary Taguiwalo,” Mandagit said.

When Mandagit said they might set up camp in front of the mayor’s office to convince him to give them the rice, the mayor then reportedly issued the threat.

“When he mentioned the massacre, I felt he was threatening us with another attack by Butchoy’s NIPAr,” Mandagit said.

“I was angry at the mayor’s heartlessness.  We only wanted to show him how desperate we are so that if we die of hunger in front of the municipal hall, at least he would know,” Mandagit said.

Mayor Edma was unavailable for comment as he was visiting the town’s rural health unit, his office assistant told Kodao.

Meanwhile, Taguiwalo said he would first inquire with DSWD’s Region 10 office before issuing a statement. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Woman warrior of Talaingod is 2017 Gawad Tandang Sora awardee

BAI BIBYAON LIGKAYAN BIGKAY was early for the nine o’clock ceremony at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) today. She sat at the front row of the hall, flanked by her two companions and interpreters, a Manobo Datu and a Catholic nun, patiently waiting for the people who are to present her the 2017 Gawad Tandang Sora.

There is little in her calm demeanor that showed she was aware the flurry of preparations in the entire hall was in her behalf, that the huge event was to hail her as the Melchora “Tandang Sora” Aquino of the current and troubled times.  Ligkayan Bigkay is just the third recipient of the award given by the CSWD only during momentous occasions. The first awardee, the brave academic Prof. Flora Lansang who fought against Martial Law, was honored during UP’s centennial celebrations in 2008.  The second awardee, Salve Basyang, tireless advocate of the rights and welfare of women and the elderly, was honored during the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of Tandang Sora in 2012.

There were fears the 92-year old third honoree (earlier reports of her age varied from 70 to more than a hundred) would not make it to the occasion because she had been ill.  Sr. Noemi Degala, SMSM, one of her companions on the trip and interpreter, explained the Bai is complaining of joint pains. “It is most probably brought about by her advanced age,” Sr. Noemi said. But Bai Ligkayan made it, garbed in the traditional red and black Manobo dress and resplendent with the ginibang bead necklace and bead wristband.  Unmarried, she still honors the Manobo tradition of wearing only two bead ornaments on her body, not even the tangkuro, exclusive to datus and chieftains like her. There were the inevitable requests for “selfies” with the guest of honor and she obliged, occasionally raising her clenched fist, like on the posters featuring her around the big venue and on the front cover of the ceremony programme.

When the program finally began, several short videos about the Lumad struggles were shown.  Bai Ligkayan remained quiet, even when the audience laughed and applauded the video of her berating North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco at their Haran, Davao City sanctuary.  The confrontation was the only time she was recorded livid, reducing the national government official to momentary and stunned submission as the Bibyaon threw the proffered water bottle at the congresswoman’s feet before stomping off.  But the usually reserved Bai grew animated when a music video was shown of Lumad children running, jumping and playing indigenous percussion instruments.  She slightly swayed her shoulders and nodded her head to the music, before returning to her calm demeanor.  She even declined an invitation to join the dance by invited artists from the College of Human Kinetics, gesturing to her aching right knee in refusal.

A cascade of tributes

When the time came to present the award, epithets echoed around the hall.  Gawad Tandang Sora Committee chairperson and Social Work and Community Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said Bai Ligkayan was chosen from among the nominees because she had the vision and courage to fight for her people.  “She is the mother of the Lumad,” Taguiwalo told the audience.  CSWD Dean Jocelyn Caragay said the awardee by her life and struggles enliven the college’s spirit for the underserved. UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan for his part explained his administration’s practice to host indigenous peoples in their annual “Lakbayan” to Metro Manila. “The indigenous peoples are the visiting professors of the university whenever they visit us. Bai Bibyaon is the Chancellor,” Tan said to laughter and applause by the audience.

Sr. Noemi’s introduction of the honoree was most accorded rapt attention by the audience. She said Bai Ligkayan is known by many names.

“By the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao, she is called the ‘Woman Warrior of Talaingod’.  To women’s groups, she is the ‘Gabriela Silang of Mindanao’.  Today, she is to be honored as CSWCD’s ‘Tandang Sora’.  By the Philippine government she has been called a ‘rebel’.  By social workers of the previous (government) administrations, she was ‘a victim of a large-scale kidnapping disguised as internally-displaced’.  And by the paramilitary Alamara, ‘a coveted trophy for war’,” Sr. Noemi said.

The nun asked, “Who is this leader of the perennially-displaced Manobos of the Pantaron (mountain) Range to deserve this tribute? Who is this woman who dwells among the outcasts to come to Manila, the seat of political power and might?  Who is this literacy-challenged leader whose education is at ‘UP’–the University of Pantaron—to be feted by the University of the Philippines?”

Sr. Noemi revealed that Bigkay does not even have a birth certificate to reveal her true age and her parents’ names.  “The nameless is now being called names.  And what an honor indeed that she is named as today’s Tandang Sora, the revolutionary woman who embodied our recent centenary as a nation.  It was perhaps fortuitous that the moment Melchora Aquino died in 1919 was probably about the same decade that Bai Bibyaon was born,” she said.

The nun drew parallelisms why the elderly Manobo woman from the hinterlands of Davao del Norte traveled to the UP campus located just a few kilometers away from where Melchora Aquino succored the Katipunan wounded and within sight of the avenue named after the “grand old lady of the Philippine revolution.”

“Tandang Sora was the revolutionary woman of the national democratic revolution of the past. Bai Bibyaon is the revolutionary woman of today’s ongoing and raging national democratic revolution with a socialist perspective and socialist practice. This distinction given to Bai Bibyaon is only possible because she has stood as the leader for the nameless, the lowly, and the cast out. To students of history the award is an affirmation of the principle that the masses make history,” the Mindanaoan nun said.

Offers back her flower bouquet

The audience was on its feet by the time Sr. Noemi reverently pronounced Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay’s name to signify the award was about to be formally bestowed next.  The honoree, who only speaks and understands the Talaingod Manobo language, was the last to stand up, seemingly unsure that the loud applause was for and about her.  When she finally made her way onto the bedecked stage, she was uncertain on where to stand, looking at her companions, Sr. Noemi and fellow Manobo chieftain Datu Aylo Buntolan, as if asking why aren’t they joining her onstage.  They later did. True to character, Bai Ligkayan did not smile even once, most unusual of any honoree in any awarding ceremony.  The Bibyaon only had her iconic determined look, showing the reason why she is being honored–her resistance against all forms of abuse and exploitation against her people–is more a reason for struggle and less of celebration.

The text on the certificate was equally glowing.  It said CSWCD’s 2017 Gawad Tandang Sora was being given Bai Ligkayan for her fight for the Lumad’s rights and dignity.  Indeed, no one carries the Lumad struggle for human rights and self-determination with more dignity that Bigkay, more so when she raised her clenched fist for the assembled academics, students, officials, former CSWCD deans, staff and alumni of UP.  Her iconic salute was borne by her people’s history of struggle at the other UP in the highlands of southern Mindanao.

The awardee only had a short speech as a response to the honor just bestowed her.  Datu Aylo’s translation from Manobo to Visayan and Sr. Noemi’s translation from Visayan to English took more time.  The awardee first remarked on her long name, which refers not only to her person but her people’s culture.  She explained that her first name is “Ligkayan” and her family name is “Bigkay”.  “Bai” is a dignified honorific to Mindanao women of stature while “Bibyaon” is her title by acclamation as her tribe’s chieftain, forced to lead when their Datus have died defending their land and people by government forces in the service of mining and logging interests decades ago. She is the Talaingod Manobo Bai and Bibyaon, who to this day leads her people against the same forces of injustice and death.

Ligkayan Bigkay thanked the CSWCD for the recognition of her contributions to her people’s struggles for self-determination.  In the second part of her speech, the oldest person in the hall addressed herself to the youth and students present.  She called on them to help the indigenous peoples defend the environment and the future as well as to contribute to the poor people’s struggles for social justice and liberation in the countryside.

Sr. Noemi struggled to capture and convey the depth of Bai’s words and admitted failure.  “Let my deep sigh represent the depth of what she said,” the missionary nun said.  She revealed that Bai Ligkayan is in fact being hunted by the military at the Pantaron Range exactly for the reasons that she is feted by the country’s premiere university.

After her speech, Ligkayan Bigkay went on showing the audience what her greatness was all about. When asked to pose for photos with her bouquet of flowers she did not want the moment to be all her own, just as she refused all the accolades given her in the past be about her alone.  She reached out and took the hands of a person who always welcomed them on campus, their ally, the surprised Chancellor Tan, who was seated nearby.

“I was touched by the gesture.  I believe she sees me either as a son or a fellow elderly.  But it also means we are very good friends,” Tan said.

Earlier, when she stepped away from the podium and was being escorted back to her seat, the bouquet of flowers earlier given her was put back on her arms.  She looked at them briefly and then offered it to Secretary Taguiwalo, a gesture that could only mean she is sharing the adulation being showered her with a kindred soul, a comrade, a fellow woman warrior. But Taguiwalo had to decline.

It was Taguiwalo who voiced how the audience felt.  “The truth is, by receiving the award, Bai Bibyaon is bestowing us honor as a college,” Taguiwalo said. # (Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

 

Caring and dying for their land

(Datu Jimboy singing)

This was not a party, more so a karaoke party that Filipinos are known for.  The song was not about love or any other ordinary ditty. The venue was not in a bar nor a concert hall and the singer is not a pop star.

The occassion was a solidarity event among the Lumad, the indigenous peoples groups in Mindanao.  The song was about the Lumad’s struggle to defend their land from unrelenting militarization and encroachment by mining companies.  The venue was in an evacuation center where 54 families are currently living in tents and where children are pounded by rain and cold weather.  The singer is a warrior chieftain who leads his people’s struggle for self determination and just peace. Read more

KODAO RADIO: Ang kabataang Lumad at ang kanilang paaralan

Listen to Manobo high school student Yenyela Undayon explain why she chose to study at ALCADEV. Listen to a 15-year old girl tell and sing the story of the Lumad.

This is Tala-Akayan’s October 29, 2015 episode, originally aired over Veritas846.

Bonicris Mandagit, a Manobo bead crafter

A photo essay by Raymund B. Villanueva

The Southern Mindanao Region contingent of Manilakbayan 2015 gathered at the covered court of Pook Dagohoy, UP Diliman last weekend.

The Southern Mindanao Region contingent of Manilakbayan 2015 gathered at the covered court of Pook Dagohoy, UP Diliman last weekend.

THEY SIT AROUND in groups in a workshop of sorts on a Sunday afternoon.  After more than a week on the road from Mindanao to Manila and six days in a camp within the University of the Philippines campus, they were spending the weekend on two basketball courts, regaining physical strength sapped by seemingly endless series of activities highlighting their struggle for justice, peace and the right to determine how to live in their ancestral lands. Seven hundred tired bodies either sleeping or doing beadwork.

Pedela Pandagit, 24 years old and Datu Jimbo'y wife, leads her group in creating bead ornaments.

Pedela Mandagit, 24 years old and Datu Jimbo’y wife, leads her group in creating bead ornaments.

“This is how we usually spend our free time back home, when the fields have already been planted and we wait for our crops to be harvested,” Bonicris Mandagit said.  Unlike in Barangay Tibugawan, Valencia, Bukidnon where they are serenaded by chirping wild birds, a cacophony of motor traffic they still have to get used to surround what used to be a silent and near meditative activity.

Bonbon (right), 18 years old and newly married, crafting a bracelet with a group that included her sister-in-law Pedela.

Bonbon (right), 18 years old and newly married, crafting a bracelet with a group that included her sister-in-law Pedela.

Bonbon, Bonicris’ nickname, is creating a bracelet out of the tiniest glass beads.  She has already threaded the yellow and black geometric highlights and is trying to close the loop with a solid band of orange.  She said she learned by observing her parents and picking up the craft when she was 10 years old.  “I do not know how beading became part of our culture.  I just know it is very important to us,” she said.

Bonbon carefully uncurling fine threads salvaged from discarded ropes and rice sacks.

Bonbon carefully uncurling fine threads salvaged from discarded ropes and rice sacks.

The Manobos have names for their most precious bead ornaments.  Big necklaces that adorn Manobo women are called ginibang, beaded waistbands are called bakus, and the practical tikos are those that wrap around their lower legs to prevent varicose veins.  The tangkuro, exclusive to Datus, are headdresses that have designs unique to each wearer.

Aida Anggol, a Manobo from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, wearing a ginibang.

Aida Anggol, a Manobo from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, wearing a ginibang.

Bonbon remembers when she was just allowed to wear two beadwork items. “Manobo maidens are supposed to wear only two bead ornaments.  Only when we are married are we allowed to wear as many to fill our heads, necks, wrists, fingers, dresses and legs,” she explained.  Bonbon wished for the time she finally could wear as many bead ornaments as she wished.

Deep in concentration, another Manobo woman finishes a necklace of white, black and red.

Deep in concentration, another Manobo woman finishes a necklace of white, black and red.

It looked like she would fulfill her wish last February when she was married.  After nine days of ceremonies that involved the exchange of pigs between her family and her husband’s they were then formally considered as husband and wife.  She looked forward to creating beautiful pieces for herself, especially those with lizard designs—her favorite.

Bead-making is not exclusive to Manobo women, as even the menfolk delight in creating ornaments.  On the foreground is a tikos worn by a resting Lumad.

Bead-making is not exclusive to Manobo women, as even the menfolk delight in creating ornaments. On the foreground is a tikos worn by a resting Lumad.

But Philippine Army soldiers belonging to its 68th Infantry Battalion arrived and occupied the Adventist School in their community last April.  The soldiers said they came to flush out the rebel New People’s Army who they say goad the Manobos into rejecting the planned pineapple, sugar cane and banana plantations to replace their farms.  The soldiers told them they will kill them all if they do not leave their community.

Women, men and children take part in bead-making sessions as much as they delight in wearing them.  To the right is a Manobo male wearing cascading bead earrings anchored by wooden pegs.

Women, men and children take part in bead-crafting sessions as much as they delight in wearing them. To the right is a Manobo male wearing cascading bead earrings anchored by wooden pegs.

Bonbon had then been married for just two months.  There was no time for her to create her dream ornaments for herself.

She, her husband, and nearly a thousand others have evacuated to Davao City.  They have been staying at a church compound in the past six months where they frequently receive harassments, even direct attacks from state forces and government officials.

“I actually have more time creating bead craft while in Haran and here at Manilakbayan. But these are for sale and not for me,” Bonbon said.  Lumad participants sell bracelets for 100 and necklaces for 200 pesos each to visitors and supporters who visit them at their evacuation centers and campsites.  “Fifty percent of the proceeds are given back to us while the rest are used to buy things we need like food and medicine,” she said.

A Manobo farmer's thick fingers are deft enough to hold the tiny glass beads and thread them through fine strings.

A Manobo farmer’s thick fingers are deft enough to hold the tiny glass beads and thread them through fine strings.

Bonbon has lost count of how many beaded items she has created and sold in the last nine months they had been at Haran and during the ongoing Manilakbayan.  She says beading has ceased to be just personal and cultural but has become political as well.  “I am happy when I see non-Lumad wearing our beaded creations.  It means they support our struggle for justice, peace and the Lumad’s right to self-determination,” she said.

Bonbon would rather that their evacuations end soon though.  “I want to be a regular wife back in our community, creating beautiful bead craft for myself while waiting for our crops to be harvested,” she said. #

Bonbon finishing an orange bracelet with black and yellow highlights.

Bonbon finishing an orange bracelet with black and yellow highlights.

(Manilakbayan 2015 is now at Liwasang Bonifacio, Manila until November 22.  It is open to visits from civilians who want to know more about the #StopLumadKillings and #SaveOurSchools campaigns.)